Why Was Orb Retired?

When Orb won the Kentucky Derby, it certainly was not a rags-to-riches feel-good story like Smarty Jones or Funny Cide. But in many ways it was just as popular because it brought racing back to a better time and place when sportsmen ruled the sport – people like the Phippses and the Janneys and the Galbreaths and Vanderbilts and Whitneys.

These were high-powered, wealthy people who believed in breeding their own horses, raising them the right way, and most importantly, racing them, usually until the ages of 4 or 5. You rarely saw one of their horses retired at 3 unless it was precipitated by a physical issue that prevented them from racing at the highest level.

The fact that Orb was retired now with a potentially successful 4-year-old campaign ahead of him, and with the Cigar Mile on his agenda just a short while ago, is puzzling enough. After all, a victory in the Cigar Mile would have put Orb right back in the running for the 3-year-old championship. It is the reason, or lack of, for the retirement that makes it all the more frustrating to the colt’s fans and for racing fans in general.

It is just something that came from out of nowhere and was totally out of character for the horses’ owners. The Phipps family and Stuart Janney are the last of a dying breed. They were the ones we clung to in these times when money came before the sport. Not so with Phipps and Janney.

I don’t begrudge any owner for retiring their horse early in his career, especially if offers from major breeding empires are simply too lucrative to pass up. But Claiborne Farm, where Orb will be standing, is part of the Phipps—Janney family and has been for many decades. So money is not the issue. There still is no classier breeding operation in my opinion than Claiborne Farm, historically and currently, and it was Claiborne that made Zenyatta’s loss to Blame in the Breeders’ Cup Classic so much easier to take, coming on their 100th anniversary.

Stuart Janney said of Orb’s retirement: “While I believe he would have had a very successful 4-year-old campaign, and Phipps Stable and I would have loved being a part of that, Orb is a wonderful stallion prospect.”

Is that it? It is that statement more than the actual retirement that is bothersome, only because it sounds as if it were written by a PR person who is an expert at using words to say little or nothing.

Does anyone have an idea from that comment why Orb was retired? If they, like everyone else, believe Orb would have had a successful 4-year-old campaign and they would have loved to be part of it, then why was he retired? Saying only that Orb is a wonderful stallion prospect is like saying Orb has a tail and mane and eats hay.

Trainer Shug McGaughey said in the Louisville Courier-Journal, “He is sound, looks about as good as he ever has in life, if not better. They just felt like it was the right time to maybe retire a young horse to go to stud. They mulled it back and forth for awhile and really decided last week. Just kind of the way it is. I think he’d have made a good 4-year-old, but how do you ever know?”

Is it me or does McGaughey sound as puzzled as everyone else? His most telling words are, “That’s kind of the way it is.”

Again, Orb’s retirement is not the issue here. It is the reason why he was retired. Don’t the colt’s fans and racing fans in general deserve a better explanation than, “Orb is a wonderful stallion prospect?” Won’t he be a wonderful stallion prospect next year after he has an opportunity to erase his poor and inexplicable performance in the Jockey Club Gold Cup?

McGaughey said the horse “is sound and looks as good as he ever has in life, if not better.” So there are no physical issues. That would surely rule out any suspicions regarding Orb having spent most of the second half of the year at the Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center. I visited Orb there and he looked fantastic and was thriving under the care of Bruce Jackson. He looked magnificent at Saratoga and equally magnificent, if not more, in the paddock at Belmont before the Gold Cup.

I consider myself a racing purist and relished in Orb’s Derby victory because of his connections. Stuart Janney is one of the nicest, classiest gentlemen I’ve met in the sport. And no family epitomizes what racing stands for more than the Phippses, the last of the great sportsmen.

That is why Orb’s retirement is so puzzling. I in no way am saying Orb should not be retired. Perhaps they felt he no longer was happy as a racehorse and that the Gold Cup was the first sign of that. That is perfectly plausible. All I’m asking is why he was retired, as delicately as they wish to put it. Perhaps I have no right to ask that. Orb is not my horse, and any owner has the right to do whatever he or she wants with their horse.

I have been involved in racing for over 45 years, and this particular retirement out of the blue and with no explanation is hard to comprehend from a historical and purist point of view. The sport, as always, will go on, and I’ve been around long enough where I’ve seen most everything in racing. Therefore, I do not feel hurt or disappointed or upset in any way. But I do feel naïve.

Orb Memories

With best pal Jennifer Patterson

With Alison McGaughey

Beautiful morning at Belmont

A handsome portrait

Five a.m. in the round pen at Fair Hill

In the Saltwater Spa at Fair Hill

Derby morning with Shug McGaughey

A congratulatory kiss from Alison McGaughey after the Derby

Enjoying all the well-deserved affection

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